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Behind the Shot: Bear Family On A Stroll

Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
Bear Family on a Stroll By Dawn Wilson —Lake Clark National Park, Alaska

Photo By Dawn Wilson

Alaska is unique in many ways, but it’s especially unique when it comes to bears. It’s the only state in the U.S. that has all three bears of North America—brown, black and polar. And that fact is what brings me back to Alaska every year—sometimes multiple times—to photograph the bruins as well as Alaska’s wide variety of wildlife.

This past summer, however, I decided to spend the entire summer season in Alaska. My main purpose was to find bears in a variety of settings, and although polar bears would be out of my driving range, I was successful in finding many black and brown bears.

This bear family was a particularly special find.

I traveled to Lake Clark National Park in early June with a photo workshop I was co-leading. In June, the salmon aren’t yet running, so bears won’t be fishing, but the late spring and early summer seasons offer a wide variety of other photographic opportunities with bears. We watched bears dig for clams, bears eating in sedge meadows, mating activity and witnessed new spring cubs.

Spring cubs, also referred to as cubs of the year, stay close to mom their first two years of life. Male bears will kill cubs, so momma bears fiercely protect and defend their babies. As a result, sows frequently keep their new little cubs hidden in the deeper woods or brush for safety. But June is about when the little cubs start getting introduced to the world.

My group was riding along the beach with our guide looking for bears. It was a slow morning, so we ventured a little further down the beach than we had on the previous day. That was when we saw the sow moving her young family down the beach.

We watched from a safe distance so we wouldn’t disturb the busy mother as she led her cubs along the edge of the sedge meadow. She continued down the beach, over a sand dune and disappeared into the distance. We didn’t see her or the three little ones again on our five-day visit in the park, but were excited about the short opportunity to see such cute little cubs parading behind mom.

I wanted to capture the essence of the bear parade in the beach setting, so I cropped the photo into a panoramic ratio. This allowed me to remove the distracting foreground and the cloudy, drab sky while keeping the beach grass, sand and sand dunes for a sense of setting.

Equipment & Settings: Nikon D4s with a Nikon 500mm lens, handheld. 1/1000 sec. at ƒ/8 and ISO 1000. This combination gave some depth to the background while ensuring detail and freezing the action of the moving family.

To learn more about Dawn Wilson’s photography, her bear workshop, private instruction or to purchase prints, visit Follow her travels through her Facebook page at